Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Amphawa, Thailand

I was a little apprehensive before coming to Amphawa due to its tourist credentials; however, one can have a distinctive, dare I say, authentic experience with careful planning. In short, finding the right accommodation is the key.

The are a multitude of places to stay close to the main town; these are to be avoided. Do a little research and venture further up river. A long tail boat and merry captain with set you back about 700 Baht per day, allowing you to sail around the beautiful meanders of the Mae Khlong River sipping on a cold beer. Good times.

Just a couple of kilometres up one of the many tributaries houses stand on stilts, their back doors flirting dangerous with the water line, leaving one baffled at inhabitants desire to gamble with the elements. In fact, just last year the area was badly affected by flooding; however, the locals, undaunted by this mere trifle, continue to carry on as if nothing had happened. Braves souls if you ask me. I slept approximately fifteen metres from the waters edge and my dreams were filled with choppy seas and vaporous swamp lizards.

Here are some pics of the area:

This was the scene from the breakfast table.

Twats with snakes:

"You photo snake, no worry. Little money. Come come."

Ayutthaya, Thailand

"Only a fool could not take a decent picture in Ayutthaya."

These are the very words that I thought after doing some pre-trip wiki-research. Predictably true to form, I managed to take millions of pictures most of which could have been bettered by a blind chip wasted on ketamine.

Here are the pick of the pitiful bunch:

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Chinatown, Bangkok, Thailand

A chaotic place that wavers little in its intensity from dusk till dawn. The senses are tortured from all angles leaving you in someone of a spin. Enter Bangkok's Chinatown well rested and ready for action.

Due to my inability to take a decent photograph, I don't feel that the madness of this place was fully captured in my pictures, but never mind. Here are a couple of tasters anyway:

Sky Buffet, Bangkok, Thailand

If you have a head, and more importantly, a stomach for heights, then get yourself to the Sky Buffet in the Baiyoke Tower 2 in Bangkok's Ratchathewi district. Dinner on the 83 floor is a visual treat and the food is dam fine, too. when you have eaten your fill of the all-you-can-eat buffet, there is only one short flight of stairs separating you from the 360 degree revolving roof deck. Here you can observe a panoramic view of Thailand's capital.

Here's a minute selection of some of the food on offer:

Bangkok Cityscape, Thailand

Shot from the hotel room balcony.

And again.

Shot from the top of the Baiyoke Tower II:

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Tasty Thai Food

I arrived back this evening from a seven day trip in Central Thailand. Here are a few of the dishes that I enjoyed the most.


Pad Thai wrapped in an omelette and my holiday book, which is a dam fine accompaniment to any long trip.

Som Tam

And again.

Sexed up White Snapper

Moo Ma Now

Tom Kha Kai

Tom Yum Goong

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Rusian Honey Cake

It was my birthday recently and, in keeping with tradition, I received a cake, which I took great pleasure in sharing with my students and colleagues. To my surprise this was not your standard sponge and cream affair. I was informed that it was a 'Russian cake.' Now, a gastronome I am not, far from it, but I do like dabble a little in foreign cuisine, and what sat in front of me was uncharted territory.

The cake from above looked nothing more than a standard sponge with crushed biscuits sprinkled on top. How wrong I was. From the side, a multitude of layers were visible; white, cream and various shades of brown sat spaced delicately on top of one another giving it a look of great complexity, but at the same time it overall appearance was that of simple, honest home faire.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and in this case the pudding excelled. It tasted like nothing any of us had tried before. Subtle honey sweetness engaged the taste buds and this was followed by a creamy deeper honey essence once swallowed. It was a strange sensation. Rich, heavy and ultra sweet, three adjectives I would not usually desire for when cake shopping, were the elements that brought it into its own.

I found out later after a little internet gimping, that the dessert in question in ’15 Layer Traditional Russian Cake.’ Thus, in case anyone wants to have a blast at making it at home, I have included a recipe and a few photos of my birthday delight. Enjoy.



2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon liquid honey
100 g margarine or 100 g butter
2 cups flour
Cream Filling and Coating
750 g sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon honey
250 -300 g crushed plain sweet biscuit crumbs, for coating
1/2-1 cup ground walnuts, for coating

1 Preheat oven to 180°C.

2 Beat eggs well with sugar; add baking soda and liquid honey (warm).

3 Melt the margarine/butter in a casserole or pot; add the mixture (margarine should not be too hot).

4 Put the casserole on a low heat, add the flour while mixing and mix until the mass is without lumps (the mixture will be very thick and very hard to stir). Remove from heat and cool.

5 Dip the dough in flour, divide, roll each layer very thin (1-2mm), cut circles as round as possible (approx 18cm diameter), and bake at 180°C for 2-4 minutes or until golden brown in colour; repeat with remaining dough and allow to cool before assembling.

6 Beat sour cream, sugar and honey until the sugar dissolves-the mixture will still be fairly liquid.

7 Coat each layer with a generous layer of cream; assemble the cake, coat the sides with cream and sprinkle top and sides with crumbs and ground walnuts. Allow to set at least 6 hours before eating.

Nutritional Facts for 15 Layer Russian Honey Cake
Serving Size: 1 (94 g)
Servings Per Recipe: 16
Amount Per Serving% Daily ValueCalories 282.4 Calories from Fat 14651%Total Fat 16.2 g25%Saturated Fat 6.5 g32%Cholesterol 46.6 mg15%Sodium 183.1 mg7%Total Carbohydrate 31.4 g10%Dietary Fiber 0.5 g2%Sugars 19.4 g77%Protein 3.7 g7%

Recipe from

Mai Khao Beach, Phuket, Thailand

Just a short dander from the bridge which links Phuket and the mainland is Mai Khao beach. It's an unspoilt, skinny stretch of sand that is a nice place to stop and eat as the beach side restaurants here are really tasty. So, if you are leaving Phuket by land, stop and have some spicy prawn soup and breath in the goodness.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Visas Blues in Phuket

Some cool Graffiti in Phuket town by the French artist NOE TWO.

Living in a foreign land has its moments of frustration, and Thailand is no exception. Mundane tasks like going to the market can turn into epic misadventures for the uninitiated. Daily, I observe foreigners with knitted brows and twisted features gesticulating manically at ticket touts. For some, dealing with a traffic attendant can cause a twitchiness in the left arm that will one day have them curling up in pain like a like a caterpillar on floor. Subtle differences in culture unknowingly result in resentment for unsuspecting travelers and locals alike. Over the last decade or so, I have lived, for extended periods of time, in a number of countries, China being one of them. And in all places conflict ebbs and flows between the local population and bright eyed visitors. However, nowhere suffers from this problem quite so acutely, in my experience, than Phuket. A paradise island it may be, but for the ten million visitors who grace its golden shores annually, certain cultural nuances cause them to act in ways that leave them searching deep inside themselves for answers.

Choosing a place in Phuket that epitomizes the above is not easy due to the fact that there are so many, but, if one feels like having a peep at the darker side of human nature, a place where grown men are reduced to blubbering messes and cultural arrogance meets theatre, then Phuket town’s immigration office is your first port of call.

For those who have not been to Phuket Immigration office, count yourself fortunate. It is a stuffy little box in which six distinct sets of people frequent for visa reasons: leather faces old men with droopy elbow skin, women with leather faces with even droopier elbow skin, gangly Russian women hobbling about in tasteless 10 inch heels, hung over thugs in sportswear stinking of booze and stale cigarettes, stoic faced men in suits staring at Blackberries, and yacht people wearing deck shoes and knee length chino shorts with sun glasses on their head. All are here for to get an extension on their visa and all anxiously avert eye contact. A silent, frantic atmosphere envelops the room and the only sounds that can be heard are conversations in broken English between the officers and the expectant visa hopefuls. All of which are tinged with mistrust and the threat of violence.

“I wanna apply for my marrage visa.”

“You, sign your name!”

“I did already, see?”

“I said, you sign name! You have name?”

“There it is right there!” (points with finger)

“No name. You have name, yeah? You not have name? You come back. You not correct paper.”

“Look, I was here last week and he (points condescendingly at another officer) told me which documents to bring. And here they are.” (sarcastically drops papers onto the desk; mouth opens to reveal tobacco stained teeth; right eye twitches in rhythmic spasms.)

“You go get son birth certificate.”

“Why do I need that for a marriage visa? I have done this for 10 years and never before have I needed that, and what’s more, HE said I didn’t need it. (points again at the other officer who shuffles uncomfortably in his chair.)

“You go.”

“What do I need to bring!” (teeth clench and spittle forms and the corner of the mouth; eyes red and protruding.)

In situations like this the officer is in full control. The visa applicant is wholly dependent on him and the man in uniform plays this game in full knowledge of his powerful position. It can be painful to watch. Two diametrically opposed cultures are at logger heads and at pains to meet half way, but the reality is that there can only be one victor; therefore, the applicant inevitably leaves either happy or embittered, and the officer doesn't care. Why would he? He’s only doing his job after all.

After experiencing many encounters like the above I am not really surprised that the officers act in this way. Every day they come face to face with angry foreigners who are frustrated by the often nonsensical mountain of bureaucracy that they have to climb. Consequently, both parties are frustrated and short tempered and fireworks are inevitable. For me, though, I refuse to let this formality get the better of me. I smile and am always well prepared. Nothing can fluster me while I am in the chair. I wear blinkers, blocking out the silliness around me, focused on my goal. This goal was achieved again last week when I was granted another one year visa. As I walked out the office and the midday sun caused me to squint, I smiled warmly at a pensioner and his twenty five year old wife, safe in the knowledge that it would be ninety full days until I had to set foot in the place again.